Paul transitions from telling the Colossians about his ministry to warning them directly about the false theology being taught in their midst. He first summarizes what he has said so far about their place in Christ and the gospel, then in verse 8 begins to go directly at the heart of the false teaching. Believers are in Christ and so need nothing else to live fully and joyously and thankfully before God. Every aspect of God’s nature is in the Son and all authority has been given to Him; thus they experience all of God and are victorious over all dominions through Him. Living IN CHRIST is everything. Nothing else is necessary and nothing else compares. Anything beyond Christ is a lie.
Paul finished verse 5 praising the Colossians for their good discipline and the stability of [their] faith in Christ. In verse 6 he admonishes them to live according to the gospel they originally heard. He does not want them following after a new theology or a teaching that goes against what Epaphras taught them. He wants them to live according to how they received Christ. The gospel is how they came to Christ and the gospel is what must guide them now.
He explains this by saying they must live IN CHRIST. They received Christ so now they must walk in Him. Their lives are no longer their own. They do not live in themselves or according to themselves – they live in and according to Christ (vs 8). They live in order to please Him in all respects (1:10). He is now Lord and they have ceded authority to Him. The way to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (1:10) is to walk IN HIM.
Verse 7 sheds more light on what this means. Those who have received Christ are rooted in Him. The foundation for their existence is in Him and they are redeemed in Him. Therefore, they must now grow in Him. They have been rooted (what happened in the past) and so now must be built up in Him (present and continuing). Everything they are is because of Christ, so they must now grow and mature in Him. The gospel does not just root – it grows (1:6). Christians are not just founded in Christ – they grow in Him also.
As they grow, they are established in the faith according to what they were taught. This again comes back to the gospel. Faith here likely means the gospel itself rather than belief in it. He urges them to know more and more about what they were originally taught. Continue to understand the original teaching and know more and more about the One in whom they are rooted and growing. But always ground all knowledge in Christ.
A characteristic of the one living in Christ is an overflowing of gratitude. This goes along with Paul’s prayer in 1:12 – living in a way that pleases Jesus in all respects includes joyously giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. The one firmly established in the faith has a full appreciation for what that faith means. The one rooted and growing in Christ continually gives thanks to Christ because he grows in his appreciation of who and what Christ is and all that He has done. Christ is infinite in love and mercy and faithfulness – thus the one being built up in Him cannot keep from praising Him and thanking Him. He overflows with gratitude. He cannot restrain it because the One he is rooted in is so worthy of it.
This overflowing brings up another thought. What characterizes the one who is not rooted and growing in Christ? What typifies the one not established in the faith according to the gospel he was originally taught? What does it look like when someone claims Christ but is not living IN Christ? Logically he would not be overflowing with gratitude because there is no one to whom to give thanks. The one rooted and growing in himself or established in himself or walking in himself is likely the one overflowing with self-absorption and complaining. He is the one dissatisfied with circumstances and people. The one with the job that is not worthy of him, the family that does not appreciate him, the friends who are a burden. “…having been firmly rooted and now being built up in yourself and established in your own world…overflowing with ungratefulness and grumbling.”
For the believer, however, it is all about being IN CHRIST. He walks in Christ. He is rooted in Christ. He grows in Christ. He is established in Christ as he seeks to know Him more and more. All of which results in an overflowing of gratitude. We received Christ as Lord through the gospel – now we must walk and grow IN HIM.
Paul now takes on the false teaching directly. He does not fully explain what the false teachers proclaim, but throughout the rest of the chapter he sheds light indirectly on their theology. Apparently they have told the Colossians that they must abide by additional rules in order to fully realize salvation and experience God to the fullest. Paul seeks to show how deceptive this is.
He warns the Colossians not to be taken captive by the empty deception. This teaching is according to the tradition of men. The theology that claims to bring its adherents closer to God is ungodly and based on man’s traditions. It is man’s version of the gospel and thus completely worthless. It is not centered on Christ but on man, and therefore has no power to save or bring anyone closer to God.
It is also based on the elementary principles of the world. This is a difficult phrase to translate. Some commentators – and some versions of the Bible – interpret this to mean “spirits”, meaning the theology is actually demonic (this seems to be the most common interpretation). Another meaning could be the elements of creation – air, earth, fire, water (or earth, wind, and fire) – and some kind of spiritual being associated with each. It could also mean the fundamental principles of a belief and Paul is ridiculing their teaching for being so basic and simplistic. In the end it is hard to say definitively, but the exact meaning is probably not critical to understanding the overall message of the verse.
The final phrase is what is important to understand. The teaching is not according to Christ. Believers are to live in Christ and root in Christ and grow in Christ, yet the false teachers proclaim a message that is not of Him. Nothing else is really all that important to know about their message. It is not of Christ so it is empty and deceptive and meaningless.
It might be easy to read verse 8 and write it off as not being directly applicable to us. After all, most of us are probably not being drawn away from the gospel by a teaching that says we need something more to please God. However, if we look at its teaching in light of the world’s philosophy that something other than God is what truly satisfies and makes life worth it, it begins to apply in a huge way. The world says if you want to follow God that is OK – as long as you do not make Him the sole object of your life and as long as you do not sacrifice the rewards and temptations of the world to do it. According to the world, life is the pursuit of satisfaction, and God is just one item on a long list of things to accumulate and experience. This is a philosophy every bit as dangerous as the false theology Paul warns the Colossians against, and one that seeks to take us captive every bit as much as the false teachers in Colossae.
And “taken captive” is an apt way to describe what following after the world is like. We live every day in a culture that screams out, “Here is what makes life worth living! Here is what it means to grab what counts, to go for the gusto! If you are not doing this or seeing this or experiencing this or possessing this – you are not living!” With the technology now at our disposal and the ability to know what millions of others are doing every hour of every day, it is virtually impossible to not be immersed in the world’s philosophy. And it is not like the world has to drag us kicking and screaming to itself – it simply lets us know what the default way is for almost everyone else. It seems very normal to go along. Living differently seems very odd. The world has more ways to deliver its message to our five senses than at any time in its history – being taken captive has perhaps never been easier. That is why verses 9 and 10 are critical.
The ease of being taken captive by an empty and deceptive philosophy is why Paul’s words in verses 9 and 10 are so important. He gives us three statements that combat the selfish teachings of the false theology.
- IN HIM all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.
- IN HIM you have been made complete.
- HE is the head over all rule and authority.
Every aspect of God’s nature is in the Son (1:19). Jesus IS God in the flesh – fully God and fully man. Thus the believer can experience everything about God through Christ. Nothing about a relationship with God is outside of a relationship with Jesus. We can fully know God through Christ because He is fully God and we can have union with Him because He is fully man.
And since the fullness of God is in Christ, the believer is made complete in Him. The believer is made full out of the fullness of deity in the Son. Everything that God has for the believer is found in the Son. Note that this is in the present tense – the fullness of life now is in Christ (in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge – 2:3). This does not mean we are perfect or glorified as we will someday be, but it means that every spiritual need we have is met in the One who is fully God and fully man. We share in the fullness of Christ and are made full in Him.
Then, the One we are made complete in is over all rule and authority. All things were created by Him and for Him, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities (1:16). Thus He is supreme over all things. He is supreme over the spirits that are behind the false theology (if we accept that translation of verse 8) and over the angels the false teachers say should be worshiped (2:18). He is over the domain of darkness (1:13) and over all authority in heaven and earth. And since the believer is complete IN HIM, he shares with Christ that victory and power over all other powers. The believer is subject only to Christ – everything else is subject to him through Christ. The believer is free in Christ.
[And if Christ is the head over all rule and authority, it follows that He is head over our lives also. It makes no sense to see the Lordship of Christ over our lives as a separate step in salvation. We received Christ as Lord – per verse 6 – and so must walk in Him. That means He is the authority in our lives and we live according to Him. He cannot be over all authority in heaven and earth and yet be in subjection to us until we decide to hand over the reins.]
So hear the encouragement in these three statements. IN HIM we have everything necessary to experience God. IN HIM we have all our spiritual needs met. IN HIM we have the fullest life possible – there is nothing else that can give us more satisfaction and joy. And IN HIM we have complete victory over all heavenly and earthly powers and authorities that would stand between us and God, or between us and salvation. IN HIM we are with God, we are complete, and we are free.
The whole text is really summarized by the phrase in Him. We must walk in Him as we received Him. We are rooted in Him and so must be built up in Him. We are to grow in our knowledge of the faith that is in Him just as we were instructed in Him. We are to resist any teaching that is not in Him. All of this is because the fullness of deity dwells in Him and we are thus made complete in Him and have victory and freedom in Him.
That leads us to the following questions. As followers of Jesus walking and growing in Him, how do we answer them?
- Where is our identity?
- Where is our satisfaction?
- Where is strength for everyday life?
- Where do we ground our priorities?
- Where do we find purpose and meaning?
- Where are love and mercy for others?
- Where are forgiveness and encouragement?
The world says there are various answers to each question that each person must define for himself. The believer answers all of them the same way – IN HIM.